Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Democratization of ´Cool´ or How Tech & Media Are Taking Over From Luxury Brands

Yesterday's publication of the top 20 cool brands in the UK serves as a useful barometer for assessing the changing preferences of British consumers.

50% of brands in this list can be classified as media and technology; and with the exception of Bang&Olufsen all of these are broadly mass market. This signals a change from last year when the rankings were dominated by luxury brands that accounted for 50% (primarily in the fashion and car categories.

I disagree with Stephen Cheliotis of CoolBrands who views this difference as a product of austere economic climate. Brand attribute 'cool' is an indicator of aspiration rather than sales; it does not correlate to what the consumers actually use. It's not like all those Chanel and Dom Perignon consumers decided to take their custom to Twitter and BBC iPlayer instead.

Rather, the new top 20 show that what we aspire and look up to is changing. Conspicuous 'bling' is beginning to lose it's appeal; the most successful people and businesses show off their status by refusing to play by the rules. Think Mark Zuckerberg in a hoodie at conferences or Google's offices decked out with boats in which to hold meetings. Flashing luxury brands is increasingly seen as something that status-seekers (not status-holders) do.

Instead, we now look up to the exciting and buzzing tech world, which (rightly or wrongly) is perceived as innovative, irreverent, democratic, fun and informal. This is a long way off from the exclusive (and to some - arrogant) world of Rolex and Maserati.

Tech and media brands enable consumers become 'cool' by being in the know and using them discerningly. 'Cool' is becoming more difficult to buy on Sloane Street or Park Lane. 

In conclusion: technology has democratised what it means to be 'cool'. We should be a lot less surprised.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gender Marketing: How to Sell to Women Pink

Ladies, unleash your inner bimbo! Finally an elegant hand has arrived that is thin enough to fit your delicate hands: BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen.
This much-ridiculed launch does, however, contain a valuable lesson for marketers and innovators who do not seem to have learnt from past mistakes. Heard of La Femme? Launched by Chrysler in 1950s it was designed especially for women. Alas, the glorious creation of pastel pink exterior, rosebud patterned upholstery, purple carpeting and set of matching accessories (yes really!) was a flop.
The reason neither of these launches work is because the brands are trying to appeal to a type of woman that only exists in the imagination of a chauvinist male. A doomed target market if there ever was one.

That said, I admire Sheilas' Wheels. This pink-and-hairspray-happy insurance broker that targets female drivers uses the outdated female stereotype ironically and doesn’t take itself seriously (not unlike Lynx.) But more importantly, their entire proposition is built on a solid functional RTB – female drivers are statistically less likely to have an accident and therefore require lower premiums. 
Women buy into Sheilas' Wheels because it delivers them a tangible monetary benefit, NOT because they identify with the Barbie-like Sheilas. Yet there is no real functional benefit to the patronising pink pen or car.

Brands can be very successful by delivering only emotional (rather than functional) benefits to women. But to do this they need to understand us first.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

‘Purple Cow’ by Seth Godin (2002) - Book Review

This one is already a classic amongst of marketers and innovation specialists. At its core is the premise that the traditional models of marketing and advertising no longer work in the developed markets, mainly because consumers already have everything they need to get by.

Innovation has effectively replaced old ‘marketing’: people only sit up and take notice when you offer them something truly remarkable. If they love it, they tell their friends and the word spreads without the costly (and inefficient) means of mass-market advertising. Word-of-mouth is like a free, extra-targeted and persuasive media campaign. But it cannot be bought – brands have to earn it by doing something truly out of the ordinary.

‘Purple Cow’ was published long before social media was at the top of every marketer’s agenda, yet its ideas are even more relevant now than they were then. Thankfully, brands are finally waking up to the fact that it is consumer buy-in and enthusiasm - not media spend – that grows awareness and market share. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Why Media, Technology And Retail Are Now One Market (Where Apple Is King)

We can tell the difference between a phone, a newspaper and a shop. Yet increasingly their individual success is becoming interdependent as major players attempt to dominate the market by forming partnerships with (or acquiring) prominent providers of complementing services.

Apple set the rules of the game. By providing a complete ecosystem of hardware (Macs and iPods,) software (iOS and OS X) and innovative services that people ‘[did] not even know they want[ed]’* (iTunes) Apple ‘trapped’ consumers in its comfy web where everything works great together. But the appeal extends far beyond functionality – Apple has created a desirable end-to-end customer experience that is aspired to in its own right.

Contenders for its throne include Google and Amazon, both of whom are busy filling in ‘gaps’ in their portfolio through launching hardware ranges (Nexus and Kindle) as well as offering additional services aimed to lock consumers in (e.g. Google+). Amazon’s announcement that Microsoft’s Bing will be the default search engine on the Kindle Fire HD (http://mashable.com/2012/09/07/bing-kindle-fire-hd/) is a clear strategic attempt to keep Kindle users away from Google.

But they are still missing the crucial ingredient – the gravitational pull of the Apple experience. Consumers crave to be trapped in their ecosystem because it makes them feel like a certain kind of person. But what kind of person would I feel like if I were trapped with Amazon/Bing?

As I write this in a trendy Brick Lane café, there are 4 other customers tapping away on their Macs. I doubt there’s a café anywhere that’s only full of HP or Sony users.  Until another brand – or a partnership – creates a cultural aura and a branded end-to-end user experience around their technology/media/search engine/retail offer, Apple will remain uncontested.

Fighting for leadership are brands originally known for hardware (Apple,) online retail (Amazon) and a search engine (Google). But what would you call that market..?

*Steve Jobs’ quote and innovation cliché. Aka Henry Ford (who invented the car): ‘If I had asked my customers what they want, they would have said a faster horse

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Luxury Brands in the Digital Space: from Laggards to Leaders

On the whole luxury brands have been slow at adopting digital media. It was felt that the exclusive in-store experience which goes a long way to justify the price tag just wasn't a match for the online world in which these exclusive brands would have less control over their brand and overall customer experience.

Yet today's announcement of Burberry's social media chief Musa Tariq's move to Nike is yet another piece of evidence pointing to the emerging leadership of luxury brands in experiential digital marketing. 

Louis Vuitton's current interactive 'Beyond the Limits' campaign invites you to explore the hidden underwater worlds lead by Michael Phelps (http://www.louisvuitton.com/front/#/eng_US/Journeys-section/Encounters/Beyond-the-limits). This immersive, emotional experience has no direct link with clothing, instead reinforcing the position of Louis Vuitton brand as an aspirational, other-worldly dream.

Burberry too has pushed its customer experience to a new level with multimedia platforms such as Tweetwalk (where Twitter followers could see backstage snaps of outfits before the models hit the catwalk) as well as 3D live streaming of its fashion shows in Autunm/Winter 2010 shows.

These luxury brands are using digital media to create evocative, memorable experiences which are in line with their core brand offer and other categories have much to learn from this. 'Digital' is the current buzz-word in marketing, but is mainly used to refer to functional features such as media reach, click-throughs and growing your number of subscribers and followers. Luxury brands remind us of the vast potential of digital for building an emotional connection with the customer through providing meaningful, unique experiences.

Yet as multi-media becomes widely accepted in luxury sphere, it will be interesting to see which brands shall hold back. I suspect that in not-too-distant future it will be differentiating not to have a digital presence.